How to grow your own native plants

Gail Oberst/For the Capital Press Participants in a recent plant propagation workshop in Rickreall, Ore., check out some of the cuttings.

RICKREALL, Ore. — For farmers, gardeners and conservation project managers, wet February is a good time to propagate woody plants, especially those that are native to the region.

Willamette Valley native shrubs and trees are popular for hedgerows, soil conservation projects along streams and in wetlands, or for beautifying landscapes and attracting wildlife. These woody plants are designed by nature to handle whatever the Northwest throws at them.

More than 80 farmers, master gardeners, landowners and technicians from the mid-Willamette Valley attended at a recent native plant propagation workshop presented by the Corvallis Plant Materials Center staff. USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service operates the center, but the area soil and water conservation districts and watershed councils sponsored the event.

The workshop preceded native plant sales endemic to this time of year, as winter is the best time to plant woody trees and shrubs, said the center’s Amy Bartow.

Purchasing from nurseries or plant sales is an easy and quick way to purchase native plants.

But those who are planning larger plant projects, including commercial production, might consider collecting and propagating their own native shrubs and trees. Growing native plants from cuttings is almost as easy as “…cut a stem, stick it in the ground, and it grows a new shrub,” Bartow told the group.

Not all native plants propagate easily from cuttings. Some might better be grown from seed or from commercial bare-root stock, center staff said.

Choosing the place to plant is the first decision. For best results, place cuttings in an environment similar to the place where they were found.

Among natives easy to propagate from cuttings west of the Cascades are: Black cottonwood, several species of willows, red elderberry, Indian plum, Pacific ninebark, mock orange, salmonberry, red osier dogwood, black twinberry, red flowering current, common snowberry, Douglas spirea and others.

Cuttings should be taken from several plants, not just one, for best variety. Cuttings are available for free at the center but are widely available in public areas as well. Neighbors, public lands, wildlife refuges are also good resources, but get permission first and check for permit requirements first, said Bartow.

The easiest method for gathering cuttings is to identify plants when foliage, flowers or berries are present. Mark the plant, and then return in the fall, just before planting. Cut dormant plants in the late fall or winter, just before you intend to plant them. Keep the twigs moist.

Cut twigs about the width of your pinkie finger. Best are 1- or 2-year-old vigorous and straight stems or suckers. Cut approximately 3 feet long. Keep moist until planted, 2-3 days at most.

Hammer a narrow stake into the ground to create a pilot hole. Plant two-thirds of the plant in the hole, keeping track of the top and bottom of the plant. Rooting compounds and fertilizer are not needed.

Water if dry, but water may not be needed if planted in winter. Apply mulch — fir needles, wood chips or leaves — to control weeds and use plant tubes or tree guards to protect them from animals.

To plant cuttings in containers, follow the same steps, but water daily. Natives in containers must also be grown outside to promote development of strong root structure, Bartow said.

In addition to local native plant nurseries and sales, following are a few resources to help you propagate woody shrubs and trees.

• USDA/NRCS Corvallis Plant Materials Center, 3415 NE Granger Ave., Corvallis, 503-393-6411, a one-stop location for cuttings, advice and educational materials. If you want to be sure the plant you’ve chosen is native to your area, this website might be a good first stop. Photos and maps and other helpful publications are available.

• Propagation of Pacific Northwest Native Plants, a book published by OSU Press, provides propagation information on nearly 140 native plants. This book is for use by both professionals and home gardeners.

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